Concise Answers and Documentation
(Answers first, documentation follows)Fasting and Abstinence
The season technically began a few weeks ago (did you notice the change in vestments from green to purple?) but Lent goes into "full swing" this coming Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, March 5th. One of the things I like to remind everyone of as Lent begins is fasting. The Church calls us to do penance during Lent, especially on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent which are all days of fasting and abstinence from meat. Keep in mind, fasting and abstinence are two different practices.
What is Fasting?
Fasting, in the strict sense, is giving up ALL food and only sustaining ones self with water. However, in the manner in which we are called to fast during the specific days of fasting - the fast allows for one full meal per day and two smaller snacks - and the two snacks, if combined, cannot add up to a full meal. You're allowed to drink water, coffee, tea, etc. all you want.
What is Abstinence?
During Lent we are ordered to abstain from all meat (beef, pork or poultry) on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. Eating of fish and shellfish is acceptable.
Does EVERYONE need to participate in fast and abstinence?
NO! For abstinence, 15 years old; for fasting, 22 years old are the first years one is required to participate (unless specific exclusions apply, see below) and are to continue through 59 years old - when one turns 60, the "requirement" ends, but the recommendation remains for those who are able.
I'm sure glad we don't have to give up meat on Fridays throughout the rest of the year, like before Vatican II!
WRONG! While it is true, there was a change to the precept, which prior to Vatican II required all Catholics to abstain from meat on ALL Fridays throughout the year - the precept was changed, not abrogated! Yes, you don't HAVE to abstain from meat throughout the rest of the year, BUT (and this is a big "but!") you still MUST abstain from either meat or something equivalent -OR- participate in some act of penance or charity as approved by your local episcopal committee (for the USA that's the USCCB). So I ask you, unless you have a GOOD REASON for offering up something other than meat on Fridays throughout the year (you have no choice during Lent - it must be meat) why not stick with the tradition of meat? If you HAVE to do something, stick with abstaining from meat. Meatless Fridays is at least one thing which not only identified us as Catholics - but UNIFIED us as such! Fish-Fry-Fridays are popular why? Because restaurants wanted to still attract Catholics to their businesses on Fridays.
22. Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified.Pope Paul VI:
23. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.
(Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, November 18, 1966, USCCB)
Therefore, the following is declared and established:
1. By divine law all the faithful are required to do penance.
2. The prescriptions of ecclesiastical law regarding penitence are totally reorganized according to the following norms:
1. The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation through-out the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of "Grande Quaresima" (Great Lent), according to the diversity of the rite. Their substantial observance binds gravely.
2. Apart from the faculties referred to in VI and VIII regarding the manner of fulfilling the precept of penitence on such days, abstinence is to be observed on every Friday which does not fall on a day of obligation, while abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday or, according to local practice, on the first day of 'Great Lent' and on Good Friday
1. The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat.
2. The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing- -as far as quantity and quality are concerned -- approved local custom.
To the law of abstinence those are bound who have completed their 14th year of age. To the law of fast those of the faithful are bound who have completed their 21st year and up until the beginning of their 60th year. As regards those of a lesser age, pastors of souls and parents should see to it with particular care that they are educated to a true sense of penitence.
There's much more in this encyclical, but do note the Holy Father's words, "Therefore, the following is declared and established:"
(Paenitemini, Issued by Pope Paul VI on February 17, 1966)The Code of Canon Law:
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
It should be, without question, that ALL Catholics between the ages of 22 and 59 (inclusive) are to participate in fasting and 15 through 59 (inclusive) are to participate in abstinence. The sad part is, MOST Catholics are unaware of the above precepts and requirements! Help spread the word! Share this on Facebook, Twitter and/or your favorite social media and other blogs! Popes Benedict and Francis have called ALL of us to this "new evangelization" - so join in!